The Shang-ti Hui and the transformation of Chinese popular society: the impact of Taiping Christian sectarianism
Reilly, Thomas H., 1954-
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Nineteenth-century China was an ideological volcano, with rebellions erupting throughout the century. But only one, the Taiping Rebellion, transformed the social landscape.There is, nevertheless, something puzzling about the Taiping impact. As broad and as devastating as the impact was, the Taiping movement, apart from the Ch'ing efforts to suppress it, seems to have resulted in no long-term transformation of Chinese society. Most scholars have sought to explain this conundrum by arguing that it was the alien quality of the Taiping faith which explains why the Taiping were prevented from sparking any long-term transformation of Chinese society. This has solved one riddle, but created another: How then, if their ideology was so alien, were the Taiping able to recruit the legions of people to their cause and to mount their large-scale rebellion in the first place?I argue in my dissertation that the Taiping's Christian sectarianism, while unique in Chinese history, was more connected to culture and society than scholars have recognized. Indeed, the reason for the singularly unique impact of the Taiping movement relates both to the original character of Taiping ideology and to its creative connectedness to Chinese society. My argument is composed of three parts: in the first part of my study, I examine the translation of Catholic Christianity into the Heavenly Lord sect; in the second part, I look at the content and practice of Taiping Christian sectarianism; and in the third part, I survey the contact which the Taiping initiated with the sects and secret societies.How the Taiping rebels interpreted the divine pretensions of the emperor and what they understood as the blasphemous character of the imperial office were both directly tied to their faith in Shang-ti. This faith ultimately led them on their iconoclastic campaigns whose impact on Chinese society contributed to the transformation of popular society, winning for the rebels a legacy in Chinese history.
- History